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Through a Lens Darkly

Films of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing

John J. Michalczyk and SJ Raymond G. Helmick

While the ashes of the Holocaust were still fresh, Polish Jewish attorney Raphael Lemkin put a name to the tragedy that had decimated his family – genocide. The twentieth century was brutally scarred by the massive scale of genocide and its manifest forms of ethnic cleansing, massacres, and atrocities. We ask how these horrors can be visually translated to the screen while both maintaining their authenticity and serving as commercial «entertainment». Through an analysis of a series of poignant films on the plight of the Native Americans, the controversial Armenian genocide, the Holocaust and its legacy, the killing fields of Cambodia, and the Hutu-sponsored massacres in Rwanda, the reader can grasp the driving mechanisms of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The oft-repeated, «Never again» rings hollow to our ears in the wake of these tragedies in a post-Holocaust era. The films discussed here, both features and documentaries, are set in an historical context that sheds light on the dark side of humanity and are then discussed with the hope of better understanding our frailty. In the end, however, we ask can the «unrepresentable» ever be represented?
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Acknowledgments: John J. Michalczyk




John J. Michalczyk

Appalling as is the subject of genocide and the viewing of the graphic images that document it, it is the positive hope that many other scholars who contribute to this text wish to understand and then express their ideas on this topic, in order to make the book a rewarding venture. Raymond Helmick, SJ and I are grateful to the cohort of writers who have generously provided a myriad of fresh ideas in this collection of essays. These authors come from a host of disciplines that can help us understand the tragic phenomenon of man’s inhumanity to man in the genocidal behavior depicted here. The solid contributions of all of the authors represented in this work will perhaps raise more questions than can be answered, but it is a noteworthy start to the pursuit of comprehending human behavior in crisis.

Kelly Fleming assisted with the close reading and proofing of the manuscript. Jordan Jennings, who first served as Teaching Assistant for the course “Genocide and Film” at Boston College in the fall of 2011, has served as a most valuable guide and sounding board throughout the process of creating this text. The students in the course with their own personal reflections offered many new perspectives on genocide. We are grateful for the research assistance that Boston College has provided us with both funding and student assistance, not to mention a much needed sabbatical to publish this book. Aileen Bianchi collected...

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